Here some good-to-know for PhD students, postdocs and all level of academics facing unemployment in Switzerland, but also for masters and any highly qualified person.

First some words about unemployment in general and the ORP/RAV, then about the BNF.

1) Unemployment and ORP/RAV counseling

Disclaimer: please make sure to check out the linked websites and to double-check how things work in your canton/city.

First important info: in order to receive the unemployment insurance (i.e. money) right after your contract’s end without a gap, you need to start applying for jobs before your contract ends. Plus you need to keep proof of all these applications. For example, if you are in Fribourg with a fixed-term contract (i.e. CDD in French), you need to have sent 2 to 3 applications per week for the last 3 months before your contract’s end.

Once registered to unemployment services, you will be assigned a counselor in a Regional Employment Center (acronym ORP in French, RAV in German). This person is here to help you find a job.

I can’t guarantee that this is always the case, but your counselor is likely to help to review your CV and prepare for interviews, they might also offer to register to coaching sessions or specific training courses.

So please make sure to ask what support and training you can benefit from, and whether you can benefit from the BNF 👇

2) The BNF

If there is one program every academic in Switzerland should know about, this is the one: the BNF = National Qualification Programme. (The BNF acronym comes from the German.)

This program is here specifically to help you: a highly qualified person.

To put it simply:

“Our consultants have similar professional backgrounds to the people they work with.”

“BNF is active throughout Switzerland and has 20 years of experience in supporting academics. We assist highly qualified specialists at career crossroads through personal counseling, fostering professional networks and focused training so that they can successfully place their professional know-how and skills in the job market. We provide:

– Personal information and advice (consulting)

– Professional networking through project work in the future job market (networking)

– Focused training / coaching in the application process (promoting)”


Here the website of the BNF.

There are two main reasons why this program is so important and helpful.

The first one is that these are immensely kind and respectful professionals who will listen to you, review your professional profile together with you and empower you in your job search. From a couple of people I know who had the chance to benefit from the BNF, they all talk very highly of the support they received :)

The second one is that your BNF counselor will help you find an internship called a project work of 3 to 6 months in a company or in the public sector of your choice for you to gain professional experience in this specific type of company/institute which you want.

Not only will you gain a professional experience and new skills to put on your CV, you will also meet new people and extend your network, strongly increasing the chances to find a job.

In other words: let’s say you are a freshly graduated PhD in biology and you would like to transition to biotech industry but you are not receiving positive answers from your applications. Well, the BNF could help you get a project work in such company allowing you to put a first step in the door :) If you’re lucky, the company might offer you a position (this does happen regularly, just check out their statistics in their last bulletin here, in DE and FR), or at least you will have gained professional experience, new relevant skills and developed your network to open other doors.

Initiated by the University of Bern, this national program has 4 offices in: Basel, Bern, Lausanne and Zurich. Find all details and contacts on their website here.

During such BNF project work, it is the unemployment insurance which is paying you. Meaning the BNF is working hand-in-hand with your ORP/RAV counselor.

Also, if you happen to be offered a position in the company or another one while you are doing a project work, you can quit any time and jump on that opportunity.

👉 Make sure to look through the list of project work which they are currently offering and remember that they can “even create a new project, suited to your personal requirements.”

In addition, the BNF offers further coaching and specific courses like Project Management, Regulatory Affairs, Networking, Negotiation, Intellectual Property and many more. Check out their full list here!

The BNF has much more to offer, for example support for spouses and partners, so make sure to explore their website.

Just to clarify: this program is not only for academics, it is for anyone with high qualifications or expertise, including all High Education School in Switzerland (Hautes Écoles, etc.)


Hoping it gives you new hope for your job search, thanks for reading this post today :)

If you know people who are unemployed or reaching the end of their contract, make sure to share these info with them 👍

If you’re still in your university or Swiss higher education institute, make sure to check out what career services they have before you leave. Also, to assess your own skills, have a look at this blog post.

To receive my next articles directly in your emails, just sign up below!